In my parents kitchen table there are two drawers. One of these is rarely opened. It contains the placemats we traditionally used on Christmas day.

As a child I loved these placemats. They had various paintings of animals and people on them- just my kind of thing! However I did notice that for Christmas guests they had a very mixed reception. Some guests even refused their placemat and didn’t want their plate to sit on it at all. How rude!

The placemats had paintings of fox hunting on them.

I have never been foxhunting. I think my mum went foxhunting once. My family love old, unusual and beautiful things. Also my dad loves to shock people.

Christmas was a very difficult time for my dad growing up, because his mother was often suicidal. He could be a little withdrawn at Christmas because of this past trauma, but would happily discuss placemats, with any shocked guests. His therapy, I guess!

Anyway, I remember debating at school about animal cruelty. I would be the girl who said ‘Hang on, isn’t foxhunting *VERY* traditional?’. It was an unpopular opinion. Truth is, I would lose myself in the paintings on the Christmas placemats. Every Christmas I would look forward to which scene I would get. When I was given my Christmas food, I was a little bit disappointed that my nice placemat scene was covered up. I couldn’t understand the upset guests who rejected their placemat’s scene. If you aren’t having it, I will!

I love animals, and I knew the sport was cruel on the fox. But I also knew that nature is cruel and animals tear each other apart as a matter of course. Mostly I was swayed by the beauty I saw in foxhunting. I loved the uniforms, and the whole dramatic look of it. It seemed like a way of being closer to nature, rather than an aggressive move towards it. I think a lot of foxhunters feel like that, and they are not otherwise cruel to animals. Foxhunting is an exception they make.

In recent years, my family has stopped using the placemats. However we also have a plate with foxhunting on it. Oddly it often gets stuck at the top of the pile of plates. This suggests that people prefer not to eat off of it, but no one will admit it.

Recently I have been learning about clean boot hunting. This is foxhunting where the hounds follow the scent of a human runner. No foxes are harmed. I still see foxhunting as beautiful and traditional as well as cruel. Clean boot hunting seems to be the perfect solution.

The idea of a clean boot hunt, is attractive for debaters, but it’s another thing to get hunters out there doing it. People need to be shown that it is a viable proposition in the modern world. I have a lot of respect for the people who are really making it happen. People take time to adjust to change. The clean boot hunters are met with opposition from both sides, but hopefully this will decrease as people get used to it, and understand it is different and that’s okay.

Here are the placemats –



History Teacher

My secondary school history teacher won Teacher of the South one year.

You might expect such bureaucracy to fall outside of the radar of the playground but you would be very wrong! We were all genuinely excited for her. I was also moved by how sweetly she responded to all this sudden attention and praise.

Her talent had been recognised officially by the mysterious powers of The Guardian. It was definitely something to celebrate! It felt well deserved too because we really were learning a lot, and it really was a lot of fun.

Every lesson she had invented new ways to make information memorable to us. If we were on Native American Indians, and had to remember the importance of red and yellow ochre paint, she helped us. She turned it into a song, with the lyrics ‘Red-ding Yellow Ochre’. Yellow Ochre was now the name of our beloved pony! Pronouncing ‘riding’ as ‘red-ding’ was some silly fun, but cleverly made sure we didn’t forget the red ochre too. She put her heart and soul into helping us learn and do well, and wasn’t afraid of making a fool of herself in the process.


I think for that reason, her classroom felt like a place where we were free to be silly too. Although my classmates were the same people I saw in other lessons, I didn’t feel intimidated by them there.

When we entered her classroom, we were taken on a journey. I think no one wanted to bring average classroom idiocy into it, because there was always an unspoken deep respect and need for the escapism she offered us, and invited us to be a part of. No one wanted to break that spell, and I wonder if it would have even been possible to!

It’s weird to think that I almost missed out on having her as my GCSE teacher at all.

It was parent’s evening. I was sat with her and my parents. She asked what I was going to chose. I solemnly said ‘I think I might chose geography.’ She looked heartbroken. My parents were surprised by her reaction, and reassured me ‘Oh geography, that’s nice. Mum took geography…’ Mrs Tingley took a long pause, straightened herself again, then looked deep into my eyes and said ‘It’s totally up to you what you chose, Rowan, but, PLEASE, PLEASE, *PLEASE* take history. *PLEASE* take history.’ To know I was so wanted in her classroom, was easily enough to sway me! I was flattered and felt that I was important to her. It also made a deep impression on me, that she would behave so unprofessionally just to keep me in her classroom!

I agreed to continue with History then and there, and enjoyed two fantastic years of her lessons. She taught us about the Native Americans, the holocaust and the history of medicine. Her lessons were definitely the best thing about school.